Epidemiology is the study and control of disease or injury patterns in human populations. When food poisoning or an influenza outbreak attacks a community, epidemiologist or “disease detectives”, are asked to investigate the cause of disease and control its spread. Epidemiologists work at all stages of the outbreak with other public health practitioners to identify and stop the outbreak.
Epidemiologists do fieldwork to determine what causes disease or injury, what the risks are associated with health outcomes, what populations are at risk, and how to prevent further incidences of a disease, behavior, or transmission. They consider the demographic and social trends of populations in relation to a disease and injury. Epidemiologists are often credited with the initial discovery and containment of an outbreaks, such as avian flu or mad cow disease.
Professionals in this field use statistical analysis through a distinctively different approach and methodology than what biostatisticians, Epidemiologists consider various hereditary, behavioral, environmental and health care factors. They also work extensively with other professionals working in the contributions of biological, clinical and other sciences, this can even include field techniques derived from biochemistry and molecular biology.
The United States is placing a high priority on building up the nation’s public health workforce. A career in public health opens the door to diverse opportunities in a variety of sectors such as federal, private and non-governmental organizations. What does this mean for you? It means that with a degree in public health, you’ll be in high demand—and on a career path filled with advancement opportunities. The field of epidemiology lends itself to a variety of work settings. Depending on your area of interest, you might work through a variety of work settings transferring your skills on different projects.
Like all fields of public health epidemiology has a strong interdisciplinary focus, students must learn quantitative skills (including biostatistics and computer applications) useful for data analysis, but also a broad array of methods of health education and promotion for fostering health behaviors to reduce the spread of the disease prevention or improve health outcomes.
You can search for schools in this field on the Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health’s (ASPPH) website. SOPHAS is the centralized online application service for students applying to a school or program of public health accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). A complete list of accredited schools and programs can be found on the CEPH website.
Learn More About a Career in Epidemiology
- Watch a video profile about epidemiologists (in the Health Science category).
- Play two interactive online games, “Outbreak at Watersedge” and “Epidemic,” to better understand how important public health is.
- Learn more about the education needed for this career and read profiles of people working in this field.
- Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health
- American Public Health Association
- Council on Education for Public Health
- Delta Omega
- National Board of Public Health Examiners